Role # 1: Fostering a Positive Attitude Toward Early Childhood Mental Health
One of a consultant's major roles is fostering a positive attitude toward early childhood mental health and achieving a shared vision for how to approach early childhood mental health. Research on early childhood mental health consultation shows that HS/EHS programs who are in strong agreement with their mental health consultant about a philosophy or approach to providing mental health services demonstrated higher levels of best practice implementation and reported better perceived outcomes for children and staff (Green, Simpson, Everhart, Vale, & Gettman, 2004).
Several strategies and specific activities that can help consultants fulfill this important task are:
- Convince those with whom you will be working of the importance of early childhood mental health
- For example: Conduct an introductory workshop or presentation for all HS/EHS staff and families on early childhood mental health to clarify what it means, underscore its importance to overall child development, and address the role that caregivers play in promoting children's healthy social/emotional development.
- Address stigma issues that may present barriers to collaboration and service utilization, with particular attention to cultural influences on attitudes towards mental health
- For example: Become a regular, reassuring presence in the classroom, program or agency to help overcome resistance to mental health services. Look for opportunities (formal and informal) to address fears about "mental health" services in general, staying attuned to and respectful of different cultural perspectives on mental health.
- Clearly communicate the values underlying an effective approach to mental health service delivery and underscore why each is important
- For example: Be up front with program administrators, providers and family members about the values that guide your approach and the rationale. Also, be sure to infuse these values into discussions about service delivery. When perspectives differ, encourage conversation to help move towards common ground.
Values that are commonly associated with an effective approach to children's mental health services, including ECMHC, are:
- All young children deserve to spend their days in a safe, stable, caring, and nurturing environment.
- A safe, stable, caring and nurturing environment is crucial to promoting healthy social and emotional growth and resiliency to protect young children from psychological harm, and to create caring conditions conducive to appropriate social and emotional well being.
- The quality of the child's many relationships with parents and other important people in their life is critical to positive social and emotional development.
- The mental health of a child's parents and caregivers is important in meeting the mental health needs of very young children.
- Families are considered to be full participants in all aspects of design, implementation, and evaluation of programs and services for their young children.
- Early childhood mental health services are responsive to the cultural, racial, and ethnic differences of the populations that they serve.
- Practices build on, promote, and enhance the strengths of the individual, the family, and early care and education staff (Hepburn and Kaufmann, 2005).